It’s a peculiar thing for an activist to deliver such bad news, but there really aren’t any solutions for working people within our nation. Here’s why: If we won decent treatment for American working families , the cost of labor in the United States would go up. That’s exactly what the bosses keep telling us, but it’s true.
If the cost of labor went up in the United States, then the nation would suffer competitively with other nations. Eventually, the other nations would take over whatever goods and services we now offer to the world.
It’s a little bit easier to see in microcosm. Take, for example, the American auto industry. During the General Motors strike just concluded, management argued all the way through that they couldn’t afford to be less competitive with the transnational companies, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that are producing good cars in the United States for the United States market cheaper than General Motors. They claimed, I think, that they pay $10-$13 more per hour in unit labor costs.
Nobody really disputes that. It’s the handwriting on the wall. Eventually, those companies with the lower labor costs could drive General Motors out of business, unless we do something.
So it is in international affairs. The nations with the lowest labor costs tend to take over from those with higher costs. A lot of us would like to think that the Chinese economy has grown because of socialist planning, and maybe good planning had something to do with it, but I imagine that their unit labor costs deserve a lot of the credit. The same is true of the other rising Asian star, Vietnam.
As long as workers live in separate nations and compete with one another, then there will be pressure to drive down unit labor costs. That’s us, you and me, unit labor costs.
So there is no solution within the United States or within any of the competing nations.
That’s the bad news.
Want the Good News?
The good news is that our present idea of nation-states can be overcome with internationalism. Capitalist nation-states are fairly new in human history, and they can be overcome. The good news is that internationalism is making progress. Unionists allied with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) recently held a big conference in Nepal. They went over the same kinds of problems that we might have discussed at an American trade union conference, but their solutions are different. Their solutions are internationalist.
More and more, we are seeing the AFL-CIO unite the progressive forces in the United States. They are also doing some good outreach in other countries. President Richard Trumka recently honored the leading Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, even though he’s in prison. Tomorrow, American trade unionists are meeting with Mexicans in El Paso to discuss problems concerning immigration. Those are marvelous developments. They point the way forward. It’s what we need. It’s what we must have.
How Do We Get There?
Working families struggle at every level. Contract fights, elections, legislative battles, and whatever else comes up. Working families have a big stake in everything that happens, and they have to fight to get anything at all. More and more, we are seeing people fight for one another. It’s called solidarity, and it’s growing nicely.
The fights will continue and so will the solidarity. It will grow into international solidarity, too. Keep going, everybody, you’re doing great!
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site